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Panama: President Martinelli's Confrontation with Journalist Generates Controversy

Following the breaking of the “Lavitola” scandal in Panama, many were eagerly awaiting a clarification of matters from President Ricardo Martinelli, notwithstanding several messages sent out on his Twitter profile (@rmartinelli) [this and all links that follow in this article are Spanish-language]. In these, the Head of State justified his silence:

Cuando a uno lo embarran en algo que no tiene que ver, uno siente que nada tiene que decir o responder. Pronto se sabrá toda la verdad.

When someone smears you in connection with a case you have nothing to do with, you don't feel there is anything to say. The full truth will be known soon enough.

At last, on April 19, he decided to break his silence and summoned a national TV broadcast on which he would make an appearance to clear up the Government's position regarding the scandal. At the appointed hour, and to the surprise of very few, the Government accused the opposition and the members of the media of being behind political moves to discredit it. The President also made it clear that no bribe of any kind had been received.

Even so, what really made news of the press conference were the answers the President gave to journalist Hugo Famanía, who had in recent weeks revealed on some media outlets that he'd been involved in a struggle with a drug problem. The President responded to one of the journalist's questions by referring to his past addiction, as summarised by Panamanian TV station Telemetro:

Famanía cuestionaba a Martinelli sobre su relación con el empresario italiano Mauro Velocci, de quien dijo tenía dudosa reputación. “Por el amor de Dios Hugo, tú has tenido problemas de drogas y no significa que por eso yo no voy a hablar contigo, yo no conocía a ese señor, yo no lo conozco, ¿yo te puedo decir ahora que yo no voy a hablar contigo porque tienes problemas de droga o tuviste problemas de droga? Yo creo que eso no es justo“, espetó el mandatario.

Famanía asked Martinelli about his relationship with the Italian businessman Mauro Velocci, who, he said, had a dubious reputation. “For the love of God, Hugo, the fact that you have had problems with drugs doesn't mean that, and for that reason, I won't speak with you. I didn't know this gentleman, I don't know him. Would it be acceptable for me to say to you now that I won't speak to you because you have a drug problem or you had a drug problem? I don't believe this would be fair,” the Head of State returned.

The President then left the press conference after addressing the journalist once again: “I hope you won't fall foul of the scourge of drugs again.” Eric507simpson, on his YouTube account, shares an extract of the press conference that was captured by national TV station TVN, and which presents the President's responses to the journalist.

Social networks reverberated with shows of contempt for and condemnation of the President's words. Two hashtags quickly emerged on Twitter: users used #MonseñorMartinelliyoconfieso (“Monsignor Martinelly, I confess”) to criticise the intolerance of the Head of State by themselves admitting to personal sins and mistakes; #UnfollowMartinelli advanced the idea of unfollowing the President's Twitter accounts.

Some made fun of the whole thing: Mercedes Melias (@MercyMelais), referring to other occasions when the Head of State made indiscreet comments on social networks, and then alleged that his account had been hacked, noted:

El presidente mañana dira que le hackearon la Boca jajjaajjaja #Panama

The President will tell us tomorrow that someone hacked his mouth, ha ha ha #Panama

Although the majority of reactions took the side of the journalist, some believe that Hugo Famanía got a little of his just desserts. Martiuska Guerra (@martiuskaguerra) was one:

@HOMERO311251 Famania no tiene moral, El presidente le simplemente le respondiò de su propia medicina.

Famanía has no morals, the President simply answered by giving him back a bit of his own medicine.

In contrast, Karina Bazan (@karinabazan) expressed her admiration for a journalist who stoically put up with the President's tactlessness:

Mi respeto y admiracion x H.Famania,un man q esta clarito en cómo los sentimientos,pensamientos y acciones influyen en su vida y el mundo

My respect and admiration for H.Famanía, a guy who is very clear about how feelings, thoughts and actions have an influence on his life and on the world

Blogger Erick Simpson Aguilera (Pma507pty) wrote:

Tal parece por sus palabras y acciones que, el Presidente Ricardo Martinelli no cree en la rehabilitación, y no perdona a quienes han pasado por esta dura experiencia. Bien, pues espero que, todos los panameños que sufren de la adicción a las drogas, quienes ya superaron dicho flagelo, y sus familiares, recuerden estas duras palabras del presidente de la nación, en las próximas elecciones.

President Ricardo Martinelli's words and actions are such that it seems he doesn't believe in rehabilitation, and doesn't forgive those who've been through this difficult experience. Fine, but in that case I hope that all Panamanians who have a problem of drug addiction, those who have surmounted this scourge, and also their families, will remember these hard words of the nation's President when the time comes for the next elections.

So it was that, far from clearing up the Government's guilt or innocence in the Lavitola question, the press conference raised serious doubts about the President's communication skills, and gave more ammunition to those with things to say on social networks.

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